THE Venetians as a school were not dramatic painters. They were concerned
with the statelmess and processronal splendor of life, not with the agonies and
oppositions-the conflicts besetting the courage and frailties of man.
splendor was troubled and their stability of mood violently unsettled by the
appearance of Tintoretto,
who burst upon them like an exploding shell, in
much the same fashion as his saint descended upon the executioners in his
Miracle of St. Mark. He was essentially a dramatist, an artist of Shakespearean
instincts and capacities, with the power to create illusions of action, to make
imagined scenes as real as direct experiences.
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When he sinned, it was in the
grand manner, on the side of redundancy and with the rhetorical gestures
accompanying great pictorial genms.
But he was always the artist: uncon
cerned about public opinion, above virtuosity and the rendering of the human
body to exhibit a knowledge of the nude; and in the words of Ruskin,
put people in hell, as did Michelangelo, because they found fault with his work.”
Tintoretto considered the subject of each picture as a new adventure in life
-an event unfolding before his eyes and demanding its own design and
He was a religious man in a city not exactly noted for piety, and when
the Reformation was shaking Italy and destroying the old tradition of art, he
mustered all his powers of anatomical design in defense of the Catholic con-
ception of following Christ.
The Miracle of St. Mark, one of his masterpieces, was painted in his thirtieth
year. The subject was taken from the story of a Christian slave in Alexandria,
who was condemned to death by his pagan master for praying at the shrine
of St. Mark; while the sentence was being carried out, the saint descended
from heaven and shattered the torturing instruments of the executioners.
was a subject on which Tintoretto could lavish the whole of his dramatic equip
ment: his ability to paint the human figure convincingly in attitudes which
could not be observed in nature;
his seizure of the most exciting instant in the
episode when the eyes of the spectators were concentrated on the prostrate
body; and by the aid of flashing, golden lights and the grouping of the figures,
his power to communicate a sense of terrifying reality to a miraculous event.